TRES LECHES CAKE—IS IT COSTA RICAN?

In Costa Rica, there is one dessert menu item that is an international success: Tres Leches (“Three Milks”). It is a vanilla sponge cake soaked in three kinds of milk: evaporated milk, sweetened condensed milk, and heavy cream and topped with whipped cream or meringue. Definitely not for the lactose intolerant

Costa Rica Dessert Tres Leches with berries on top

While Costa Rican food is always fresh and satisfying, it isn’t really a culinary tourist destination, and it is especially not known for its desserts. For the most part that is, well let’s just say, “I will pass on dessert”. Almost every local restaurant offers a pitiful few dessert options, like coconut flan (custard) or ice cream or fruit cocktail. But If Tres Leches is offered, BUY it!!

Is Costa Rica the sole proprietor of this milky delight? Not Really. Tres Leches is popping up all over the world–the Americas, the Caribbean, Canary Islands, and—surprisingly–Albania and Turkey.

Costa Rica didn’t invent the recipe. Tres Leches became popular in Latin America about a generation ago, although liquid soaked cakes have existed in many countries throughout the centuries. There are the sherry-soaked British trifle and Italy’s tiramisu—dripping with coffee and mascarpone—to name just a couple.

Tres Leches Costa Rica

Tres Leches is part of a “long and respectable tradition of [liquid soaked cakes] that extends back through colonial Mexican history to medieval Europe,” reports M. M. Pack who investigated the history of Tres Leches for The Austin Chronicle in 2004. According to Pack, Tres Leches gained momentum in the 1940s when the Nestle Company (the manufacturer of 2 of the canned milks) put a recipe on their cans and distributed it all over Central America. Tres Leches became the cake of choice for Mexican celebrations.

Costa Rica Tres Leches

A quick Google search reveals that everyone has a recipe for this confection, including Emeril Lagasse, Alton Brown, Bon Appetit, Food and Wine, Food Network, The Pioneer Woman, Martha Stewart, and–not to be outdone–Betty Crocker, to name just a few.

There are many ways to tweak and vary the cake’s flavor profile. You can find recipes for chocolate, coffee, eggnog, and cinnamon roll Tres Leches. There is even a shortcut recipe which uses store-bought pound cake and spray type whipped cream. You can even incorporate fresh fruits or pureed fruit into the mix and really make it a tropical treat.

Tres Leches

Haagen-Dazs and Blue Bell introduced a Tres Leches flavor ice cream a few years back. I think those should have been “Cuatro Leches” (Four Milks)??

So, next time you eat at a restaurant in Costa Rica, Ask the server before you order if they offer Tres Leches. If they do make sure to save room for an order of this rich, creamy, decadent dessert called Tres Leches. And if you are adventurous enough to make it on your own, here is a recipe so that you can have a whole cake to yourself. Add a little dark rum to the “milks”—you won’t regret it!

This recipe is copied from allrecipes.com where almost 1000 reviewers gave it 5 stars:

Cake:
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1 cup white sugar
5 eggs
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Soaking liquid:
2 cups whole milk
1 (14 ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
1 (12 fluid ounce) can evaporated milk
1 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream
1 cup white sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease and flour one 9×13-inch baking pan. Sift flour and baking powder together and set aside. Cream butter or margarine and the 1 cup of the sugar together until fluffy. Add eggs and the ½ teaspoon of vanilla extract; beat well. Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture 2 tablespoons at a time; mix until well blended. Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake at 350 degrees F (175 degrees C) for 30 minutes. Pierce cake several times with a fork.
Combine the whole milk, condensed milk, and evaporated milk together. Pour over the top of the cooled cake.
Whip whipping cream, the remaining 1 cup of the sugar, and the remaining 1 teaspoon of vanilla together until thick. Spread over the top of cake. Be sure and keep cake refrigerated.

Enjoy! Send me a note if you tried to make Tres Leches, I would love to know how it turned out.

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LIVING “IN THE ZONE” THE NICOYA PENINSULA BLUE ZONE

Is it possible to live longer by just moving to Costa Rica’s Nicoya Peninsula? One of only five BLUE ZONE on the planet. It might be, if one learns the lessons for living longer from the people in this area who have lived the longest.

Costa Ricas Blue Zone

The Nicoya Peninsula, home to the Liberia International airport and where people live measurably longer lives, often exceeding 100 years. Researchers have identified a group of villages on the peninsula (an 80-mile long finger of land on the Pacific Coast) with a significantly higher rate of longevity than the rest of Costa Rica—and the world, for that matter. They are Santa Cruz, Hojancha, Carillo, Nandayure, and Nicoya.

Do you have to move to, say, Hojancha to live longer? Can you still enjoy a longer life expectancy living in a condo in Playas del Coco, or an ocean view home in Playa Hermosa, just a few miles north of the Blue Zone?

Here is what you can do to have some of the benefits of living in the Blue Zone. I should take my own advice:

Get plenty of sunshine. Regular sun exposure helps your body produce vitamin D for strong bones and healthy body function. Vitamin D deficiency is associated with a host of problems, such as osteoporosis and heart disease. Laying out on the beach all day is too much, and really here the sun is strong you may end up looking like a lobster, however. A healthy amount of sunshine is about 15 minutes on the legs and arms each day. That’s a very easy one to do.

Walk everywhere. Regular, low-intensity physical activity is a must for longevity. Walking, bicycling, gardening, cooking, keeping up the house, taking care of animals and looking after children, etc., has been a big part of the daily routine for these people during their entire life. Well that’s good I fit a lot of these, but I hope not to live to 100 HAHA!

Costa Rica Hiking

Do hard work. Centenarians here have done physical work all their lives. They find joy in everyday chores instead of viewing them as, well, chores or hiring someone else to do them. Guilt here that’s what I do, unfortunately. They say they ‘keep the same schedule as the chickens,’ rising early (5 a.m.) and “roosting” after the sun goes down, around 7 p.m.

Costa Rica Worker

Eat rice, beans and tortillas. Their diet is mostly plant-based with the occasional addition of a small portion of meat. Rice, beans, corn (in the form of handmade tortillas) and green vegetables are staples of their diet. It has been said that the combination of corn (maize) and beans may be the best nutritional combination for longevity the world has ever known. Also, rich, colorful fruits are readily available and high in vitamins and antioxidants. This one is Perfect for me I love all those foods and eat them all most of the time.

Eat the same thing every day. The Nicoyan diet is very repetitive: Gallo Pinto (rice and beans combined) with sour cream or an egg for breakfast; rice and beans with a bit of protein and vegetables for lunch; a tortilla with homemade cheese or a slice of avocado at coffee time. Every single day. Studies show you are less likely to overeat if your diet is repetitive. The reason is obvious: Why overeat at lunch when you just had the same thing in the morning and you will have the same thing tomorrow for lunch? Variety may be overrated but I need variety in my diet! I love all these things but certainly love other foods as well. Give me a big fat hamburger every once and a while, PLEASE!

Have a sense of purpose. These centenarians usually live with their children and grandchildren where support is mutual. They help clean and cook and take care of the animals and children, and in turn receive physical and financial support. They have a “plan de vida”—a purpose in life—that gives them a reason to live and gives them a positive outlook on life.

Have an offline social network. Social networks seem to play an important role in longevity. Nicoyan centenarians get frequent visits from neighbors and, in turn, visit others. They know how to listen, laugh, and appreciate what they have. Key Point is offline, so consider stop reading this and have a talk face to face with a real person. You may actually like it.

Drink the water! Nicoyan water percolates through limestone and is very high in calcium and magnesium, perhaps explaining the lower rates of heart disease as well as stronger bones and fewer hip fractures. I get asked this all the time, “ can you drink the water” with a big smile I always answer “ it’s better than the stuff in plastic bottles that cost an arm and a leg.”

Be spiritual. Persons living in Blue Zones have a strong belief in God. Nicoyans in particular believe that everything that happens is God’s will. Though this may seem simplistic to some, it relieves them of stress and anxiety. If the word “God” offends you while reading this, I can guarantee Costa Rica is not for you.

Unplug. Cell phones and cable TV have only existed in these communities in the last 25 years. Most of the centenarians do not text or use the internet. In many cases, they have lived the majority of their life without electricity and do not drive. The first 70-80 years of their lives have been slow-paced, pastoral and quiet. They have been less stressed throughout their lives than other Costa Rican, even their children and grandchildren. It follows that the current generation of Nicoyans may not live as long as their parents and grandparents.

So when you hear the term “Pura Vida” or Pure Life this is what it is all about

So, there is your guide to living in the zone—the Blue Zone that is!

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MARIMBA–“WOOD THAT SINGS”

In perfect harmony with the relaxed tropical location, its smooth, subtle rhythm accompanies the palm trees swaying above it. Across town its toe-tapping beat keeps time with the pace of the village square. In San Jose’s concert hall, it performs a classical composition alongside its peers in a symphony orchestra. Which instrument boasts such versatility? It is the marimba–“wood that sings”!

Marimba being played in Costa Rica

The first time I saw one was in the back of a pickup truck with five guys holding on to it. I was thinking what the heck is that thing. I was driving to Sardinal, a traditional Costa Rica town just 7 miles from the beaches of Playa Hermosa, to play a round of golf at Vista Ridge Golf and Country Club.

So, I followed the truck for a bit as I was really curious as to what was that strange looking thing. When it arrived at the town square, I watched six guys remove it from the truck and move it towards the center of the park. Within minutes the most beautiful sound started coming from it as one gentleman was tapping away on it with long sticks that looked like it had cotton balls on it. With out really knowing what it was I had to do some research.

The marimba is a type of xylophone and a member of the family of percussion instruments. What determines the marimba’s characteristic sound? The materials used in construction, the size and shape of the keys or bars, the resonators, the choice of mallets, and the style of the musician.

Three men playing a Marimba in Costa Rica

The keyboard consists of graduated wooden slats called “bars” connected by a tight, thin cord and suspended above a wooden or metal frame. Rosewood, renowned for its resonant quality, is the wood of choice for the bars. While the number of bars varies from 32 to 78, the most popular marimbas have a 4 1/2- to 5-octave range including both diatonic and chromatic scales (corresponding to the white and black keys of a piano, respectively). To assign a specific note to a bar, a hollow is carved out of its underside. By gradually enlarging this concave cavity and adjusting the length of the bar, the desired note is attained. The deeper the hollow, the lower the note; the shorter the bar, the higher the note. This tuning process can be custom-tailored to the preferences of the musician/owner.

Suspended vertically below each bar is a tube called a resonator, which acts as an amplifier. In traditional marimbas they are made of cedar or cypress, chosen for its flexibility and natural resistance to insects. These wooden resonators have a little hole at the lower end called a “navel”, the perimeter of which is coated with wax and then covered by a tissue-thin membrane of dried pig intestine. This membrane vibrates when the note is struck and improves resonance.

The wood bars “sing” when struck by the mallets. To make a traditional rubber-tipped mallet, sap from a rubber tree is smeared on a flat surface as if it were thick paint and left to dry in the sun. The rubber is then cut into thin strips and wound around a core attached to the end of a wooden shaft. Mallet heads can also be made of yarn or cord. By adjusting the core and winding process, a large variety of timbres are possible. Generally, the softer mallet heads are used for the lower tones and the harder heads hit the high notes.

Marimba players–called “marimbistas” in Spanish–perform alone or in groups of two or three. Using multiple mallets, each musician strikes the notes that form the chords of the melody, harmony or bass. It is fascinating to watch the speeding mallets of the marimbistas–their movements are a blur, like the beating wings of a hummingbird.

A wide range of musical styles can be played on the marimba, from classical to popular. Many countries have their own favorite rhythms, such as Costa Rica’s “tambito”. On some occasions the marimba performs as a solo instrument; other times it is joined by other marimbas of varying sizes. More often than not, the marimba is accompanied by guitars, drums and other instruments. Commonly these marimba bands are family-based groups who keep the tradition alive from one generation to the next.

It is difficult to pinpoint the birthplace of the marimba. While many countries have native xylophone-type instruments, some believe the primitive marimba was born in South Africa where Zulu mythology tells of a goddess named “Marimba” who made an instrument by hanging gourds below wooden bars. It is believed African slaves recreated the design upon arrival in Latin America during the 16th and 17th centuries.

In Costa Rica, traditional marimba makers are sometimes called “marimberos.” Theirs is an empirical knowledge, since there are no schools here that teach the skill. In small shops next to their homes, artisans often work alone and at an unhurried pace, at times taking three months or more to build a single marimba.

Would you like to buy one? Due to the high price of rosewood and the labor-intensive craftsmanship, the cost of a marimba can be prohibitive, ranging from $1,800 to $15,000–as much as the cost of a piano. But don’t despair! A well-made and maintained marimba will not wear out, so a used one may be as good as a new one–and more affordable, too!

From the village square to the concert hall, the almost music box-like sound of the marimba always draws a crowd. Mellow and at the same time energetic, it is impossible to resist the music of the versatile marimba–“wood that sings.”

Group of Marimba musicians in Costa Rica

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COSTA RICA’S BLUE-PLATE SPECIAL, “Casado”

“I’m starving!” you say after a long morning playing at the beach in front of your condo in Playa del Coco. Maybe it is the sea air, or the hot sun, or all the fun activities available to you every day, but in Costa Rica you get HUNGRY. The gnawing kind. You crave a variety of freshly prepared food in great quantities, and you want it FAST. So head to a Soda for a Casado.

Example of a Costa Rica Casado
Good Food at a Cheap Price

You know you want to try a Casado.  You have heard of it, right? The Casado is Costa Rica’s “blue-plate special.” It can be ordered in almost any restaurant or “soda” (café)—even if it isn’t on the menu. It is always the biggest plate of food you can get for the least amount of money.

When you order a Casado, you will receive a generous portion of several different dishes. Your Casado meal will always include a generous serving of rice and beans—usually black beans—and a portion of either beef, pork, chicken or fish. Or you can substitute an egg. You choose your protein. And there will always be fried, ripe plantains (Maduros). Also, you will be served a green or pasta salad. The other side dishes vary from restaurant to restaurant; they may include avocado, french fries, fried cheese (those two words should always go together!), corn tortillas, or a picadillo. The word “picadillo” comes from the Spanish word picar, which means “to mince” or “chop”. So it is a dish of finely chopped vegetables cooked with a small amount of meat, of which there are many varieties–all of them delicious. Be sure and ask what the particular casado you are ordering contains; substitutions are usually available.

Perfect meal in Costa Rica

Why do they call it a Casado? The word casado means “married”, and since it is in the masculine form, it refers to a married man. If you ask a Tico where it gets its name, the answers will be as varied as the plate itself! Some say the dish “marries” several other dishes together. Others say it is what married men eat at home. This latter definition is probably closest to the truth. According to Costa Rican culinary expert Marjorie Ross Gonzales, the Casado was born in the early 1960’s when family heads migrated to the capital city, San Jose, to take advantage of emerging economic opportunities (read: jobs!). These men missed their wives’ cooking and began to urge the local restaurant owners to serve them dishes like the ones they had at home. The generous portions all served together on one plate were just like eating at home! So the dish became the one requested by the Casado—the married man, lonely for home and his wife’s cooking.

Costa Rica cuisine is a blend of Native American, Spanish, African and other ethnic groups. The casado is representative of all these: the rice from Spain, the beans from the indigenous population, and the plantains from Africa. Additionally, Italy is represented in the pasta portion.Costa Rica Traditional Meal

Is the Casado a healthy choice? Generally speaking, yes! Composed of protein, carbohydrates, and vegetables, it can be very nutritionally balanced. It is also rich in vitamins A, B, C, and E, as well as potassium (the plantains) and fiber (the beans). It can be low or high in fat depending on the cook that prepares it, so the casado may not be good for your diet if it is shiny with oil. And, as always, go easy on the salt!

When in Playas del Coco a good place to order a Casado is Soda Los Pelones, just two doors down from the Banco National the public bank. “Excellent food, friendly people” and a choice of many different entrees. And, as expected, it is a “Cheap Eats” category restaurant. Win, win, win. What to know where to eat in the Playa del Coco or Playa Hermosa area, just ask me. I live in Playa Hermosa and get around. It also helps I am a retired chef, so I think I know what I am talking about.

Great Tico Restaurant
My Favorite Soda in Playa Del Coco

So, next time your stomach screams, “I’m hungry”, find the nearest soda and ask for the Casado. You will be filled and satisfied by this mini-buffet of Costa Rican cuisine!

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LIFE IN THE CLOUDS, MONTEVERDE COSTA RICA

What would it be like to live in the clouds? You can experience life in the clouds firsthand by traveling the steep, winding dirt road to the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve.

What is a cloud forest? It is a tropical rainforest situated at a high elevation. In Monteverde, the cloud forest blankets a series of mountain peaks, some more than 5,550 ft high. As the northeasterly trade winds from the Caribbean ascend these mountains, the moisture they carry condenses in the coolness. Clouds form and bathe the forest with rain or shroud it in mist, sustaining great bio-diversity in a relatively small area. Dramatic differences in humidity and temperature create Monteverde’s 6 distinct ecological zones in which life flourishes in astounding variety.

Misty clouds in the hills surrounding Monteverde

The region was settled in the 1950’s by a group of 44 Quakers, a pacifist religious group also known as the “Friends”. They left their homes in Fairhope, Alabama, U.S.A., and moved to Costa Rica because of their conscientious objection to war. “We chose Costa Rica because of its political and economic stability and because it had abolished its army,” relates Marvin Rockwell, a member of the group. Their search for land that was fertile and relatively inexpensive led them to a mountainous area near the town of Santa Elena. Life in the clouds wasn’t easy for them at first. Rockwell remembers, “The only road up the mountain was an oxcart trail, and we repaired it with picks and shovels so that our jeeps could enter.” An appropriate name was chosen for their new home. “We decided to call the community Monteverde, which means “Green Mountain”, relates Wilford Guindon, a leader of the group.

The settlers made two decisions that would have far-reaching effects. First, they had to decide how to make a living in their isolated farming community. The challenge was to produce a commodity that could withstand the long trip down the mountain and to the market. The solution was cheese. Today, the small cheesemaking operation the Quakers started produces more than 3,400lbs of cheese daily.

The other important decision was to set aside 810 acres of forested mountainside above their homes to protect the water source for their small hydroelectric plant. Soon the rich variety of flora and fauna in the watershed area attracted scientists. In 1972, a group of scientists and local residents founded the Monteverde Cloud Forest Preserve, a wildlife sanctuary that soon thereafter included the watershed. Since then, the Preserve has been extended to encompass approximately 35,000 acres.

Birders and naturalists throng to see the thousands of bird species that make their home in the Monteverde Reserve and surrounding area. 

More than 500 species of trees serve as a framework for the ecosystems in the Reserve. Some cling tenaciously to exposed ridges, struggling against the winds that have stunted and gnarled them. Those that grow in protected areas wear a dense robe of epiphytes–herbs, shrubs, vines, or even trees that use other plants as a base. Epiphytes, meaning literally “on top of the plants”, cover about 75 percent of their trunk surface. How can these plants live without being rooted in soil? The Preserve’s Nature Trail Guide explains, “In this very wet environment epiphytes receive plenty of water even without extensive root systems. The mass of vegetation traps enough of the leaf litter being washed down from the canopy to supply nutrients.”

Orchids in abundance add splashes of color to the palette of green. Any remaining space in the landscape is filled with 200 kinds of ferns, some as tall as 40 ft.

Monteverde Cloud Forest is a sanctuary for over 500 bird species and a birdwatcher’s paradise. Native birds range from the resplendent quetzal to the diminutive hummingbird. Many visitors seek the quetzal, considered by some the most spectacular bird in the tropics. Although there are approximately 100 pairs nesting in Monteverde, they can be difficult to spot because their green plumage blends with the verdure of the forest. On the other hand, it would be hard to miss the hummingbirds that frequent the feeders placed outside local shops and restaurants.

Waterfall in Monteverde Cloud Forest

One hundred species of mammals call Monteverde home. Its residents include five species of the cat family: jaguar, puma, ocelot, margay, and jaguarundi. The reclusive big cats keep their distance from humans. “A puma is sighted about every six months, and a jaguar is seen only about every three years,” reports Rafael Bolaños, manager of the Preserve. An encounter with one of the 120 species of amphibians and reptiles is much more likely.

What does the future hold for Monteverde? Efforts are being made to expand the protected area. It is hoped that these measures will ensure that there will always be abundant life in the clouds.

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HOWLER MONKEYS, THOSE CUTE COSTA RICAN DEVILISH CREATURES

It is the first night in your in your home in the hills above Playa Hermosa, Guanacaste, Costa Rica, and you are suddenly awakened at dawn by a roaring, howling sound outside your window. You bolt upright in terror as the crescendo builds. “WHAT IN THE WORLD IS THAT SOUND??”

Meet the mantled howler monkey, or congo as it is called in Spanish. During your stay in Guanacaste there is a good chance they will be your alarm clock in the morning and they will serenade you during sunset cocktails.

You will see howler monkeys in groups of 10-20 traveling through the tree tops or the green monkey bridges that around the town and of course lounging on limbs. Though primarily a black monkey, the howler has a fringe of yellow or golden brown hairs on its flanks—that is his “mantle.”

Howler Monkeys sitting in a tree in Costa Rica

As you watch him, you may think, “That is the life! I want to be a monkey!” And arguably, there are some real attractions to what I will call The Howler Monkey Lifestyle. Let’s consider four major aspects: lethargy, communication via howling, pulling rank, and peeing and pooping on others. Yes, I wrote peeing and pooping on others. The Howler Monkey Lifestyle may become a way of life for you, or just something you adopt until your vacation is over, or until social norms ( or the police) no longer allow it—whichever comes first.

First of all, how do you manage that level of lethargy? The answer: a vegetarian diet! The howler monkey eats mostly the young, tender leaves of trees and the occasional fruit and flower. The low-energy food source makes for a low-energy monkey. Howler monkeys sleep almost 20 hours a day. “Most of the howler’s active period is spent feeding, with only about 4% of the day spent on social interaction,” says the book Primates of the World. I don’t know about you, but that sounds REALLY GOOD to me especially if you are retired. That means, “Honey, bring me another beer” (which is vegetarian!) would be IT for your interactions during any given 24-hour period. A perfect lifestyle, if you could also eat bacon and nice fat burger added in for extra flavor.

In The Howler Monkey Lifestyle, “Honey, bring me another beer” would be howled. REALLY LOUD. Howler monkeys have a special hollow bone near their vocal chords which acts as an amplifier. Some species of howler monkeys are the world’s loudest mammals (if you discount college football fans), capable of emitting roars up to 140 decibels. The amplified roar allows the monkeys to locate each other without moving around or risking physical confrontation. More on monkeys and confrontation later…

Now, you may think that howling for a beer won’t really work in your…uh…situation, even if you do it REALLY LOUD, but in The Howler Monkey Lifestyle males outrank females, and the youths outrank the older members. Outranking means you get first choice of food and resting sites (“I call dibs on that limb/hammock!”). This ranking system is widely and loudly contested in human society where the rules of survival of the fittest are different. Your mother-in-law, although older and female, will always outrank you, thereby guaranteeing your survival, or at least postponing your demise.

And finally we arrive at the part of The Howler Monkey Lifestyle that many of us consider the most interesting—and probably quite disgusting: peeing and pooping on others. “The howler monkey is usually indifferent to the presence of humans,” says the book The Natural History of Costa Rican Mammals. “However, when it is disturbed by people, it often expresses its irritation by urinating or defecating on them. It can accurately hit its observers despite being high in the trees.” So never stand right under them when taking pictures. How great would it be if you were “disturbed by people” you could ‘express your irritation’ that way! AND be a good shot! NOT, you would end up in jail or even worse. I get that that is not really socially acceptable—nor hygienic—but it would just be a great way to relieve yourself on so many levels, if you get my drift. 

As you can see, many—some might say all—aspects of The Howler Monkey Lifestyle are very appealing. Before surprising your family by adopting the lifestyle, there are a couple more facts that you may choose to discuss with them. One is that when young monkeys reach maturity, they “leave home” and “marry” outside the family—worthy of imitation. The other is that when males reach maturity, the scrotum turns white. Just a heads’ up there.

So, the next time you are gazing up at the howler monkeys lounging in the trees above you–“actively” promoting the lifestyle–and you feel a few drops of rain fall out of a cloudless sky, remember: that’s not rain.

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A Personal Thank You from Me

I wanted to take this opportunity to thank you, all my past and present clients, whether a buyer or a seller. Let me explain why and I hope it is not too long winded.

I came to Costa Rica almost 10 years ago as a fresh new real estate agent in a new country. I was generously offered the opportunity by my two broker owners Michael Simons and Chris Simmons. I actually met Chris first on a return flight from Costa Rica heading back to my home in Arkansas, after purchasing another property in Costa Rica as I just loved it here.  Just by sheer luck we were seated next to each other on that flight. We chatted all the way and Chris was asking me questions that made me think “am I on a job interview?”, but he seemed like a nice guy so no skin off my teeth, as the saying goes, I think?

Anyway, just as we are ready to land he hands me his business card and says I want you to be on our team. I looked at the card and kind of chuckled and said RE/MAX, I am not a Realtor. He replied “I know that’s perfect, I prefer hiring ambitious friendly, outgoing people, you can learn about real estate”. So, I tucked the card in my pocket we shook hands and parted ways.

After purchasing my first property in Costa Rice years earlier, I always knew I wanted to move here, but being a chef and working in the tropics did not jazz me all that much and the process to be sponsored by a large hotel chain is arduous.   When I had moved to Arkansas, I had changed professions and went into hotel /restaurant equipment sales, a natural fit for a chef.  However, I always wanted to try to find a way I could make the move to Costa Rica and still make a living, as I was too young, well not that young and let’s be honest; not independently wealthy enough to retire, so I needed to work – and I like to work anyway.

One day sitting in my home office in Arkansas after a long week of business travel I thought “you know what? Where is that business card that broker gave me?”.  I thought “if I can sell complete restaurant packages upwards of a couple hundred thousand dollars, I could take my passion for Costa Rica and help others find their piece of paradise as well”. After I hunted the business card down I sent Chris an email.

Now this is no bull, with in about 2 hours of hitting the send button on the email to Chris my cell phone rings. It was my present broker Michael Simons, calling me. First words out of his mouth, “Hi, is this Joe?, My name is Michael Simons , I am the Broker owners of RE/MAX Tres Amigos in Playa Hermosa, Guanacaste, and my partner Chris says I need to hire you”.

WOW was I blown away. We talked for a good time and to make a long story short, as I did promise at the beginning of this, not to be too long winded, I resigned my position from my job, went back to school to get my license as a realtor in Arkansas, got on a plane to Costa Rica and never looked back.

I know, so what does this have to do with saying Thank You? I am honored to have joined an elite group of only 6 RE/MAX Realtors out of 91  RE/MAX agents in the entire country of Costa Rica.  I am now part of the RE/MAX HALL of FAME. This award is bestowed on any RE/MAX agent achieving over $1,000,000.00 Dollars in commissions.

So, the Big Thank you goes out to all of my past sellers and buyers because without your trust in me I could never have achieved this milestone in my career here in Costa Rica.

THANK YOU and again THANK YOU. Pura Vida!

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Guanacaste, Costa Rica Rainy Season Almost Over

Thank God, we are finally heading in to November and the rainy season in Costa Rica is nearing it’s end.  This year has actually, been a good rainy season.  Yes, rain is good.  The liquid of life. As you may or not may know we had a pretty bad drought for the last 3.5 years, and the rain has been a blessing.

Hillside road near Playa Hermosa Costa Rica

Normally we receive between 40 and 60 inches of rain a year all coming from June thru Mid-November, with October usually being the heaviest rainfall. Some years a bit less, some years more. Well, to hold true to form, as of writing this Playa Hermosa has received 28.9 inches of rain, and there are a few days to go. Year to date in Playa Hermosa we have received 81.3 inches of rain.

This year we had the unfortunate low-pressure weather pattern that turned in to Tropical Storm NATE, that really hit this part, and many other parts, of Costa Rica hard. Many local folks in low lying areas were flooded out and lost most if not all of their belongings. In a 72-hour period from October 3rd to October 5th, I measured 16.8 inches of rain just in Playa Hermosa. Playas Del Coco received over 22 inches of rain in the same period of time and the distance between the two beach town is just a mere 3 miles.

Many people may have seen on national weather reports, Facebook or the internet, accounts of the river of water flowing down the main boulevard of Playa Del Coco to the ocean. In the Bay of Coco, many boats cut free of their moorings due to the high and very unusual tide and ended up on the beach.

Costa Rica rainy season brings flooding to Playas del Coco

Massive efforts by the expat community and locals alike all chipped in to help those that were in need. Many donated clothes, bedding toiletries, bottle water and of course food for those that were living in shelters to stay dry and out of dangerous situations. There were even a couple of organized beach clean ups to remove the debris that was washed up on shore. I even have clients that saw this and emailed me what can we do to help. Many sent funds to the Costa Rica Red Cross.  Others who were flying down to visit, and a few more to still arrive, have suitcases filled with items as some people are still not back to 100%, and may not be for a while. To those of you that did help out and are on this mailing list, I send you a BIG PERSONAL THANK YOU for opening up your hearts.

Some people may say wow that’s an incredible amount of rain.  In reality yes, it is a lot of rain, but it is all good. It is only when a massive tropical storm hits that it is a problem for a short period of time. As I sit here front of this laptop writing this I can look out of my office door and thru the conference room windows of the Tres Amigos office and see sunny blue skies and not a trace of rain.  Hope it stays this way, but the averages say we will get some more rain before the Costa Rica rainy season is over.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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Costa Rica Business Ideas for Expats

Thinking of throwing in the towel, tired of being bossed around and underappreciated by your boss or the company you work for? The Team at RE/MAX Tres Amigos in Playa Hermosa, came up with a list of Costa Rica business ideas we think would be profitable for the owner and good for the area as well.

RE/MAX Logo

We hear all the time from people that want a new adventure and a life in Costa Rica, “what can I do to make a buck”? Now I am not recommending you start a business that you know nothing about and I am not saying you are going to make a fortune, but that all depends on you and your work ethic. Most of us in the group have lived and worked in the area for an average of 10+ years, we see the opportunities that are needed.

Of course, there are a lot of legalities working in a foreign country and setting up a business. The most important thing I can tell you is you need good legal advice to help you do things correctly and legally. As an example, here in Costa Rica a foreigner cannot legally work until they have their full permanent residency, without restrictions or they must be sponsored by a corporation and can prove your skill set is something that cannot be filled by locals.  However, you are legally allowed to be the owner of a business, you just cannot take away the job of a local, that is until you have your full residency.

Below is the list of ideas we came up with and I placed a few comments after some of them

  1. Salad bar with all the fixings:

Fresh produce is abundant in Costa Rica and with great farmers market in Liberia this would do really well so long as you also promote to locals as a way of eating healthy.

  1. Home Inspection Company:

Being in the Real estate industry we do have 2 options we offer our clients but would really like more.

  1. Pet Sitting Service:

I know many expats that adopt loving Tico dogs and cats but they like to travel back to their home country and if you’re an animal lover this could be a great option for you

  1. Traveling Food Truck, road coach as it used to be called years ago:

With the big trend of food truck in the US and Canada, it is making its way here, someone serving original, different and fresh foods will surely be popular. Think about going from beach to beach while serving great food.

  1. Official Translator that is fluent in both English and Spanish:

I know many times I am in need of this service and so are others. If you 100% fluent in Spanish the gringo expats will be knocking down your door.

  1. Appliance Repair:

We utilize one guy who is great and does a really good job. The problem is he lives an hour away and you have to wait till he is in the area. Imagine no refrigerator for a week and half?

  1. Boat Mechanic:

This is a no brainer, we are on the Pacific coast and to find someone that really knows what they are doing, without taking the boat to Puntarenas (about 2.5 hour away by car) would be a God send.

  1. Senior Care Giver (in Home):

This is an important one especially since we have many retirees that move to the area and well we all will get old and sometimes need some help.

  1. Any Online Based Business:

Now that we will have fiber optic lines being laid throughout the Playa Hermosa, and Playas Del Coco areas providing much better highspeed internet.

  1. Plumbers:

I mean a real plumber, not just a guy that can do some basic stuff.

  1. Home Security Systems:

We have a few companies here but the follow up is much to be desired and of course there is the communication issue.

  1. Electricians:

See Plumbers above same thing.

  1. Golf Cart Rentals and Especially Repairs:

Being a small area, a lot of people own them here, and vacation renters like to use them as well. But most are electric, gas would be so much better and people that are certified or trained on how to repair them properly.

  1. Activity Equipment Rentals:

You know, items like bicycles, or scooters, kayaks, beach stuff, fishing gear, stand up paddle boards. Since we are right on the ocean these would be great to have that maybe even deliver and then pick them up after you are done.

  1. Home Decor Store:

No explanation needed here, Heck when I wanted new pillows for my sofa it was a chore to find nice ones and I had to go to San Jose just to get new lamp shades.

  1. Exterior Window Washing:

If you start this type of business, your hired, I live on the third floor, you won’t see me trying to clean the outside windows

  1. Real Delicatessen with Smoked Meats:

This is probable the best one on the list as far as I am concerned. I miss this the most from the US

  1. Sporting Goods Store:

And not just Soccer supplies.

  1. Real Asian Food:

Yes, there are sushi joints around and so called Chinese restaurants and they are ok, but I would die for some real Thai food, or even north American style Chinese food. It is really easy to turn Arroz con Pollo (rice and chicken) in to Chicken fried rice. Just add soy sauce, and stir. HAHAHA.  Indian cuisine would be great, different curries, Tandoor cooked meats and fish and let’s not forget naan. Yummy, I’m getting hungry.

So, if you’re thinking of making a move and want to start a new life in the tropics, there are many options to consider that can keep you busy and make you money. Do you have a specialty you’re good at? Want to know if it is needed here? Just send me a note and let’s discuss.

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Guanacaste, Home to Costa Rica’s Largest Solar Park

Coopeguanacaste is the rural electric distributor in for most of the province of Guanacaste and they are very close to completing constructing the largest solar panel plant in all of Costa Rica with an installed capacity of 5 Megawatts (MW) and generating 9 Gigawatts (GWh) of energy per year.

The solar park is located in Belen de Carrillo, Santa Cruz, about a 40-minute drive down rt. 21 from the Liberia International airport. The main reason for picking Guanacaste is the abundance of sunshine. With Costa Rica’s goal of reducing its carbon footprint and working towards being fossil fuel free for the generation of electricity, is hoping to reduce about 1,500 tons of carbon dioxide emissions per year. This equates to roughly planting over 5000 trees to achieve the same thing.

According to data supplied by Panasonic, the company in charge of project design and construction, the solar park has 15,456 photovoltaic panels with high-efficiency HIT technology of 325 Watts each.

The park costs an estimated $8.6 million USD, funds came from the MGM Sustainable Energy Fund (MSEF), a private equity fund that promotes energy efficiency and renewable energy projects in Latin America.

If Green energy is a big thing for you there are some great options here in Costa Rica to add them to any home.

Thanks for reading my blog and be sure to visit my main site:

www.costarican-american-connection.com 

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